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For-hire drivers gather at a Seattle City Council meeting in December in support of a new law that paves the way for drivers to unionize. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)
For-hire drivers gather at a Seattle City Council meeting in December in support of a new law that paves the way for drivers to unionize. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The city of Seattle Wednesday released a set of proposals that aim to settle some of the toughest questions in the landmark law that would let drivers for ride-hailing companies decide if they want to bargain collectively.

The rules cover several aspects of the law, including ways for drivers to vote on whether they want to bargain collectively, how organizations representing drivers get certified by the city, which working conditions are subject to collective bargaining, and how disputes will be handled.

The most controversial aspect of the law has been the question of which drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft should get a say in whether they want to organize and bargain collectively. The new rules say that only drivers who have worked for a ride-hailing company for the three months before the ordinance takes effect in January will have a say. Drivers also need to have made 52 trips that begin or end in Seattle within that three month period to be eligible.

These eligibility conditions have rankled the ride-hailing companies that favor giving each driver a vote.

“Every driver that would be covered by a union agreement should have the right to vote on it,” Adrian Durbin, spokesman for Lyft, said in a statement. “By proposing rules that would disenfranchise a significant percentage of drivers, the City of Seattle has embarked on a fundamentally unfair, undemocratic process.”

And here is a statement from Uber’s Pacific Northwest General Manager Brooke Steger:

Upon initial review, the City’s draft rules give a minority of drivers the ability to make decisions that could jeopardize work opportunities for thousands of Seattleites. Denying so many Uber drivers a vote effectively silences their voices and gives an entrenched special interest group undue power over the entire driver community. The rules also offer no protections for driver privacy, and few protections against fraud during an election. We feel the City greatly missed the mark at the expense of thousands of drivers. We join our drivers in calling on Seattle to stand up for the basic rights of all ride-share drivers by giving everyone a vote on their future.

A public hearing on the proposed rules is set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at City Hall. According to the city’s timeline, the law is set to go into effect Jan. 17, 2017.

(Chart Via City of Seattle)
(Chart Via City of Seattle)

Organizations that want to represent drivers must turn in a request to be certified by the city by Feb. 17, and the city will decide which organizations are eligible to represent drivers in March. Those organizations then have two weeks to let the ride-hailing companies know they intend to organize drivers. After receiving lists of drivers in April, the organizers then have 120 days to gather enough driver support for collective bargaining.

The first-of-its kind law passed last year and gives drivers the ability to negotiate pay rates and employment conditions, among other conditions. Currently, these drivers are considered independent contractors and are not protected by traditional labor standards — including Seattle’s new $15 per hour minimum wage law. They also do not have collective bargaining rights covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

When it was passed, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declined to sign the bill, citing “several flaws” including the burden of administering the law, but noted that it would still become law without his signature. In a press release from the city announcing the draft rules, Murray said he still has some doubts about the policies.

“Though I continue to have reservations around the legislation that created this process, I believe in the drivers’ right to improve their working lives through collective bargaining,” said Mayor Murray. “I have fulfilled the executive’s responsibility to get the process started by developing these rules. However, I welcome council’s review of the proposed rules, and, should these rules not address their intent, request council provide legislation that more clearer lays out that intent.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in March against the city of Seattle, representing Uber and Eastside for Hire, arguing that the legislation violates several federal laws and would “burden innovation, increase prices, and reduce quality and services for consumers.” A federal judge dismissed the suit in August, but the legal fight is likely long from over.

In the meantime, the city has struggled to implement the landmark law. City staff asked for an additional six months from the original September onset date to figure out some of the key issues, but a frustrated City Council Education, Equity and Governance Committee granted a shorter extension to January.

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